Vineyard takes Roman road to attract visitors

1 June 2021. Dunesforde Vineyard.

ATTRACTING visitors during the winter months is a conundrum that vineyard owners wrestle with worldwide. But Yorkshire’s most northerly commercial outfit thinks it may have found part of the answer on its doorstep – in the shape of an 18 square metre mural.

Dunesforde Vineyard is a boutique operation whose 6,500 vines occupy a six acre site near the tiny North Yorkshire village of Aldborough.
These days, Aldborough is an idyllic sleepy backwater, but 1,800 years ago it was the administrative centre for the Roman Empire in Northern Britain with a population of 3,000, similar to that of the nearby garrison town of York.

It is widely thought that wine was made there and to mark the connection between wine making past and present, Dunesforde’s owner, Ian Townsend, has commissioned the first ever painting of what Roman Aldborough is thought to have looked like. He hopes this epic work of art will attract visitors to the vineyard all year round.

“This is the first time anyone has attempted to re-create what Aldborough would have looked like when it was an important Roman centre. Everyone involved has worked hard to ensure that this portrayal is as accurate as possible,” he said.

“Attracting visitors to your vineyard is relatively easy during the summer. But tempting people at other times of the year can be more of a challenge. We hope this wonderful work of art, along with our other wine-related artefacts, will help attract people all year round,” he said.

“Aldborough, or Isurium Brigantum, to give it its Latin name, was an incredible place. It had an amphitheatre, a Forum, heated baths, a temple and we have reason to believe there was a vineyard there too,” said Mr Townsend.

Working in acrylics, Leyburn-based artist Lynn Ward has taken six months to complete a work which is 7.3m wide and 2.4m high. Spread across six boards, it features almost 1,400 people, 86 horses, 18 dogs, a tiger fighting a gladiator in the amphitheatre and, of course, a vineyard.

“We’re pretty sure that we’re not the first to have a vineyard in this area. Archaeologists found a tablet in the Roman fort of Vindolanda at Hadrian’s Wall which referred to wine in production at Aldborough. The original tablet sits in the British Museum, but we have a replica in our tasting rooms,” added Mr Townsend.

“Given that there is evidence of Roman vineyards in Lincolnshire and that the Emperor Probus (A.D. 276-282) granted permission for Britons to plant vineyards and make wine, it seems highly probable that there would have been vines growing in such an important centre as Aldborough,” he said.

The Townsend family planted its six acre site in 2016 and the vineyard currently produces around 3,500 bottles of white, rose and sparkling wines each year. Production is expected to peak at around 8,000 bottles in future years.

The vineyard has four grape varieties – Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir Precoce, Bacchus and Solaris. Each individual bottle is numbered by hand, with quantities ranging from 276 bottles of Rosé to 1,316 bottles of Classic Cuvée.

“We’re a boutique vineyard that concentrates on creating quality wines rather than volume. This far north, it’s always a challenge to create wine, but we’re buoyed by the fact that the Romans could have been doing the same thing almost 2,000 years ago,” said Mr Townsend.

Much of the detailed information of what the town looked like has come from The Friends of Roman Aldborough. Trustee David Roberts said: “What I like is the way it connects the presentday vineyard to the fact that wine might have been made here in Roman Aldborough around 1,800 years ago,” he added.

Isurium Brigantum was established some time after 74 A.D. and its creation was only possible because of the agreement made between the Romans and Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes, the Celtic tribe that dominated the region.

Dunesforde Vineyard has a sparkling wine named “Queen of the North”, which celebrates the Brigantes monarch and which is proving popular with northern Brides.

According to Mr Townsend, Roman wine was very different to what is produced today.

“They added a lot of honey so the wine was sweet, and some would water it down. Drinking wine instead of untreated water meant there was less chance of becoming ill. Modern technology would suggest that today’s wines would be superior in quality,” he said.

Dunesforde’s Roman Aldborough mural is available to members of the public attending tours and wine tastings at the vineyard. Pre-booking, via the website (dunesforde.com) is essential.

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